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Antonio Gramsci: A Cultural Base for Positive Action

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Europe, Literature, Social Rights, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 7:54 PM

By René Wadlow

Antonio Gramsci (January 22, 1891 – April 24, 1937) was an Italian Socialist and then Communist editor who is best known for his notebooks of reflections that he wrote while in prison. (1) Gramsci grew up on the Italian island of Sardinia and saw the poor conditions of the impoverished peasants there. He studied just before the First World War at the University of Turin at a time when industry, especially the Fiat auto company was starting. Gramsci became concerned with the conditions of the new industrial working class. When the First World War started, he was asked to join a new Socialist newspaper that had started in Turin.

Antonio Gramsci

In 1921, in part due to the Russian Revolution, the Italian Communist Party was born. Some of the Socialists, including Gramsci, joined the new party, and Gramsci became an editor of the Communist newspaper. In 1922, he went to Russia as a delegate of the Italian Communist Party to a convention of Communist Parties from different parts of the world.

Also in 1922, Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power and quickly began a crackdown on the Communists and other opposition movements. In 1926, after a failed attempt on Mussolini’s life, there was a massive crackdown on Communists. Although he had nothing to do with the effort to kill Mussolini, but as a Communist deputy to the national Parliament, Gramsci was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His health, which had never been strong, deteriorated in prison. On April 27, 1937 he died, aged 46.

While in prison, he wrote his ideas in notebooks which were censored by the prison authorities. Then the notebooks were passed on to family members. Gramsci had to be careful about how he expressed his ideas. The notebooks were published only after the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the Fascist government. Thus, Gramsci was never able to discuss or clarify his views. Nevertheless, his prison writings have been widely read and discussed.

Benito Mussolini

The concept most associated with Gramsci is the idea of “hegemony”. Hegemony is constructed through a complex series of struggles. Hegemony cannot be constructed once and for all since the balance of social forces on which it rests is continually evolving. Class structures related to the mode of production is obviously one area of struggle – the core of the Marxist approach. However, what is new in Gramsci is his emphasis on the cultural, ideological, and moral dimensions of the struggle for hegemony.

For Gramsci, hegemony cannot be economic alone. There must be a cultural battle to transform the popular mentality. He asks, “How it happens that in all periods, there co-exist many systems and currents of philosophical thought and how these currents are born, how they are diffused and why in the process of diffusion they fracture along certain lines and in certain directions.”

Gramsci was particularly interested in the French Revolution and its follow up. Why were the revolutionary ideas not permanently in power but rather were replaced by those of Napoleon, only to return later? Gramsci put an emphasis on what is called today “the civil society” – all the groups and forces not directly related to government: government administration, the military, the police.  There can be a control of the government, but such control: can be replaced if the civil society’s values and zeitgeist (world view) are not modified in depth. There is a slow evolution of mentalities from one value system to another. For progress to be permanent, one needs to influence and then control those institutions – education, culture, religion, folklore – that create the popular zeitgeist. He was unable to return to the USSR to see how Stalin developed the idea of hegemony.

The intellectual contribution of Gramsci has continued in the work of Edward Said on how the West developed its ideas about the Middle East. (2) Likewise, his influence is strong in India in what are called “subaltern studies” – what those people left out of official histories think. As someone noted, “I believe firmly that the history of ideas is the key to the history of deeds.”

Notes

(1) Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks (three volumes) (New York: Columbia University Press); Antonio Gramsci, Prison Letters (London: Pluto Press, 1996)

(2) See Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1994)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Pitirim Sorokin: The Renewal of Humanity

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Democracy, Europe, Literature, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 7:26 PM

By René Wadlow

Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) whose birth anniversary we mark on January 21, was concerned, especially in the period after the Second World War, with the relation between the values and attitudes of the individual and their impact on the wider society. His key study Society, Culture and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics (1947) traced the relations between the development of the personality, the wider cultural values in which the personality was formed, and the structures of the society.

Pitirim Sorokin

The two World Wars convinced him that humanity was in a period of transition, that the guideline of earlier times had broken down and had not yet been replaced by a new set of values and motivations. To bring about real renewal, one had to work at the same time on the individual personality, on cultural values as created by art, literature, education, and on the social framework. One had to work on all three at once, not one after the other as some who hope that inner peace will produce outer peace. In his Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), he stressed the fact that “if we want to raise the moral standards of large populations, we must change correspondingly the mind and behavior of the individuals making up these populations, and their social institutions and their cultures.”

Sorokin was born in a rural area in the north of Russia. Both his parents died when he was young. He had to work in handicraft trades in order to go to the University of St. Petersburg where his intelligence was noted, and he received scholarships to carry out his studies in law and in the then new academic discipline of sociology. After obtaining his doctorate, he was asked to create the first Department of Sociology at the University of St. Petersburg. However, the study of the nature of society was a dangerous undertaking, and he was imprisoned three times by the Tsarist regime.

He was among the social reformers that led to the first phase of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He served as private secretary to Aleksandr Kerensky, head of the Provisional Government and Sorokin was the editor of the government newspaper. When Kerensky was overthrown by Lenin, Sorokin became part of a highly vocal anti-Bolshevik faction, leading to his arrest and condemnation to death in 1923. At the last moment, after a number of his cell mates had been executed, Lenin modified the penalty to exile, and Sorokin left the USSR, never to return. His revolutionary activities are well-described in his autobiography A Long Journey (1963).

Aleksandr Kerensky

He went to the United States and taught at the University of Minnesota (1924-1930) where he carried out important empirical studies on social mobility, especially rural to urban migration. These studies were undertaken at a time when sociology was becoming increasingly recognized as a specific discipline. Sorokin was invited to teach at Harvard University where the Department of Social Ethics was transformed into the Department of Sociology with Sorokin as its head. He continued teaching sociology at Harvard until his retirement in 1955 when the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism was created so that he could continue his research and writing.

Of the three pillars that make up society − personality, culture, and social structure − personality may be the easiest to modify. Therefore, he turned his attention to how a loving or altruistic personality could be developed. He noted that in slightly different terms: love, compassion, sympathy, mercy, benevolence, reverence, Eros, Agape and mutual aid − all affirm supreme love as the highest moral value and its imperatives as the universal and perennial moral commandments. He stressed the fact that an ego-transcending altruistic transformation is not possible without a corresponding change in the structure of one’s ego, values and norms of conduct. Such changes have to be brought about by the individual himself, by his own effortful thinking, meditation, volition and self-analysis. He was strongly attracted to yoga which acted on the body, mind, and spirit.

Sorokin believed that love or compassion must be universal if it were to provide a basis for social reconstruction. Partial love, he said, can be worse than indifference. “If unselfish love does not extend over the whole of mankind, if it is confined within one group − a given family, tribe, nation, race, religious denomination, political party, trade union, caste, social class or any part of humanity − in such an in-group altruism tends to generate an out-group antagonism. And the more intense and exclusive the in-group solidarity of its members, the more unavoidable are the clashes between the group and the rest of humanity.

Sorokin was especially interested in the processes by which societies change cultural orientations, particularly the violent societies he knew, the USSR and the USA. As he wrote renewal “demands a complete change of contemporary mentality, a fundamental transformation of our system of values and the profoundest modification of our conduct toward other men, cultural values and the world at large. All this cannot be achieved without the incessant, strenuous active efforts on the part of every individual.”

Notes

For a biography see: B. V. Johnston, Pitirim A. Sorokin: An Intellectual Biography (University Press of Kansas, 1995)

For an overview of his writings see: Frank Cowell, History, Civilization and Culture: An Introduction to the Historical and Social Philosophy of Pitirim A. Sorokin (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952)

For Sorokin’s late work on the role of altruism see: P. A. Sorokin, The Ways and Power of Love (Boston, Beacon Press, 1954) A new reprint was published by Templeton Press in 2002

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

For a World Citizen Approach to Protecting Human Rights Defenders

In Africa, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, International Justice, Latin America, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 19, 2021 at 6:28 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

What are, if any, the lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 crisis? As far as we, World Citizens, are concerned, the most important one is undoubtedly this: As we have been saying since the early days of our movement, global problems require global solutions.

Beyond the appearance of a mere self-serving statement, this traditional World Citizen slogan finds a new meaning today. Never has it been so visible and proven that national sovereignty can be not only a hurdle to solving global problems, but a full-scale peril to the whole world when abused. While many European nations were quick to react to the virus as a major health crisis right from early 2020, others led by nationalists, namely the USA, the UK and Brazil, adamantly refused to take any action, dismissing the virus as harmless if not non-existent. Just like an individual who is not aware of being sick can pass the disease on others while behaving without precaution, a country that does not act wisely can contribute dramatically to spreading the disease throughout the world. And that is what happened.

No use beating about the bush – that kind of behavior is a violation of human rights, starting with the right to life and the right to health. Even though COVID-19 is first and foremost a medical issue, it also has implications in terms of human rights. There comes a question which has been with us since the beginning of the century: In the absence of a global institution, such as a global police service, in charge of overseeing respect for human rights worldwide, what about the people devoting their lives to performing this duty of public service, these private citizens whom we call Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)? Before COVID-19 ever appeared, many of them were already in danger. While vaccines and medicines are being developed to counter COVID-19, there does not seem to be a cure in sight for the perils HRDs face every day.

Legal, legitimate, but unrecognized

HRDs, people defending human rights, have existed from the early days of human civilization in one form or another. Since 1948 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), followed by a number of treaties and similar declarations, it has obviously been viewed as more legitimate and legal to promote and protect rights which were now internationally recognized. The UDHR itself has made history by evolving from a non-binding resolution of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to an instrument of customary international law, toward which states feel obligated through, as international law puts it, opinio juris. But in a postwar Westphalian world where only states had international legal personality, the people defending the rights enshrined in the UDHR, in other words HRDs, long remained deprived of formal recognition.

It all changed in 1998, when the UN General Assembly celebrated the half-century of existence of the UDHR by presenting it with a companion text, officially called Resolution 53/144 of December 9, 1998 but better known as the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – in short, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (DHRD).

Like the UDHR, the DHRD was born “soft law”. But the resemblance stops there. In twenty-two years of existence, the DHRD has been nowhere near accepted by states under opinio juris. Accepting international human rights is one thing, but endorsing the creation, if only morally speaking, of an international category of people authorized to go against the state to promote the same rights, well, that continues to be more than the nation-state can live with. Everywhere in the world, HRDs feel the pain of that denial of recognition.

Human rights under attack means defenders in danger

Traditionally, human rights in the Western sense of the word mean freedom of opinion and expression. These rights continue to be curtailed in too many countries, beyond geographical, cultural, religious, or even political differences. Inevitably, that goes for HRDs defending these rights too. The two “least democratic” countries sitting as Permanent Members on the UN Security Council, Russia and China, also stand out as world leaders in political repression.

During the Cold War, the Eastern bloc would put forward economic and social rights as a counterpoint to the said Western notion. Even though human rights were “reunified” over thirty years ago, economic and social rights remain taboo in various parts of the world. In Thailand and Nicaragua, health workers have been punished for demanding better equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. In the Philippines, city residents who pushed for more adequate shelter in times of lockdown were similarly repressed by their government.

Cultural rights, often alongside indigenous rights, can truly be described as disturbing all forms of governments in countries which used to be colonies of Western powers, from Latin America, most recently in Honduras and Paraguay, to Asia with such examples as Malaysia and Indonesia. In such countries, being an HRD trying to advance the rights of indigenous groups all but equates trying to tear the whole nation apart.

Everywhere in the world, such typical 21st-century pressing issues as LGBT rights and, more than ever since the #MeToo scandal, women’s rights may be popular causes, but taking them up almost systematically means trouble, be it in North African countries like Egypt and Tunisia or in the European nations of Poland and Andorra.

Last but not least, even though one might think the wide consensus on the issue opens doors for action, defending environmental rights is proving no easy task. From Madagascar to Belarus, trying to get your government to live up to its responsibilities is bound to create a most unsafe environment for you.

For those who need and manage to flee, being abroad does not even mean being safe anymore. China has been found to be heavily spying on activists from the Uyghur minority living in foreign countries, and last month the AWC had to send an appeal to the authorities of Canada regarding a Pakistani HRD from the Baloch minority group who was found dead in Toronto, after the local police service said the death was not a criminal act but a fellow Baloch HRD and refugee there expressed serious doubts.

When the DHRD should be providing greater relief and comfort for the performance of human rights work, HRDs continue to be denied any character of public service, leading to acute stigmatization, intimidation, and ultimately repression. As many signs that the nation-state is losing its nerves in trying to defend a Westphalian national sovereignty that COVID-19 has now largely proved is out of date.

Shattering national borders – and human rights, too

One form of human rights abuse that has become particularly salient since the late 2000s, further fueled by Brexit in 2016 and the now-ending Trump presidency since 2017, is the systematic persecution of refugees and migrants – and, more preoccupying still, of those nationals in the countries of arrival trying to lend a hand to the newcomers. In France, President Emmanuel Macron was thought to have been spared from the influence of populist parties backed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia; yet several activists have been prosecuted on these sole grounds, such as Martine Landry of Amnesty International France and Cédric Herrou, both from the Nice area near the Italian border. Eventually, both were cleared by the judiciary. In the USA, migrants’ rights activist Scott Warren was similarly prosecuted – and similarly acquitted. But in both countries and others still, the problem remains unsolved.

No wonder this is happening at all. Even those governments least favorable to the brand of xenophobia “exported” by Moscow since the last decade have become unfathomably sensitive to the issue of migration and asylum, as they too feel threatened by the outside world and flaunt their borders as ramparts, shielding them from some barbaric conduct with which they confuse different customs and religions, thus adopting the very same attitude as those populists they claim to be fighting. That leaves citizens trying to help refugees and migrants singled out as traitors and criminals.

The mass arrival of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East in the summer of 2015 proved that Europe and, for this purpose, the rest of the world were wrong to assume that crises in other, distant parts of the world could never hit home too violently. In this case, the crisis bore a name – ISIS, the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (the Levant)”. The Iraqi-born terrorist group had conquered a wide swath of land the previous year, seizing territory from both Iraq and Syria along the border, and established on it a “caliphate” that drew scores of individuals from many parts of the world, especially Europe and North Africa. The previous summer had seen its militias persecute the millennia-old Christian minority of Iraq and other religious groups such as the Yezidis. A year before the UN dared called it genocide, the AWC did.

When the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” of the late 1990s in Afghanistan had been recognized by three countries, no one recognized the “Islamic State”, let alone the caliphate. Obviously, recognizing the “caliphate” would have been both a violation of international law and an insult to all of ISIS’s victims back home and abroad. Nonetheless, as the French-American scholar Scott Atran and the specialist Website e-ir.info noted, the “ISIS crisis” proved that the traditional notion of the nation-state was now being violently rejected – violently, and ISIS leaders knew full well how to make good use of it, cleverly rendering their barbaric ways appealing to Westerners and North Africans frustrated at the lack of social and political change back in their home countries.

Questioning the nation-state in such an insane, murderous manner can only be diametrically opposed to the mindset of a World Citizen. Stopping borders from serving as ramparts against foreigners irrationally viewed as enemies, bringing the people of the world together regardless of political nationality, none of this can ever be compatible with the creation of yet another nation-state, albeit de facto, to terrorist ends at home and abroad. Even though the massive afflux of migrants and refugees was certainly no phenomenon the best-prepared state in the world could have successfully dealt with overnight, European nations failed at it miserably. In suspecting and rejecting foreigners for fear of terrorism, they only made it easier to commit terrorist attacks on their soil and endanger their own population, including the Muslim population which automatically becomes a scapegoat every time a jihadi terrorist attack is carried out. Nobody’s human rights were well-served and everybody’s human rights ended up as losers.

Globalizing solidarity with HRDs

There you have it. The harder states, European and others, strive to defend their borders as sacred, God-given privileges, the harder human rights and their defenders get hit and everybody loses.

Consequently, returning to the comparison with COVID-19, a true World Citizen perspective toward protecting HRDs must put forward what has been absent throughout the pandemic, in terms of both public health and patient care – globalization. Not the unfair, inhumane economic globalization we have known since the 1990s, for that one too is responsible for what has happened over the past twelve months. A World Citizen can only seek a globalization of solidarity, bearing in mind that, as French President Emmanuel Macron once put it, “the virus does not have a passport” and travels freely through all human beings who accept, or get forced, to become its living vehicles.

The very same principle should apply to human rights and their defenders. The UDHR is by name universal, as are all human rights. Therefore, why wouldn’t the defense of the same rights be universal by nature? If terrorism can be let to shun national borders in its war on the whole world, then why can’t brave, devoted HRDs enjoy the recognition they deserve, in every country, on every continent, and from every type of government? Why in the world would a terrorist get greater attention than a citizen dedicating their life to championing the dignity of all fellow human beings? If this divided world of ours could possibly find some sort of unity in support of health workers fighting COVID-19, then why not around HRDs, too?

World leaders can no longer look away from the issue. Uniting around one global problem means endorsing the principle of global solutions for everything else. If there is to be a different future for the world, a better future, then trusting and respecting HRDs, supporting and helping them, and ultimately joining their ranks are as many keys that will unlock a brand new era of shared true dignity.

Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.

Maurice Béjart: Starting Off the Year with a Dance

In Africa, Arts, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Europe, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 1, 2021 at 3:09 PM

By René Wadlow

January 1 is the birth anniversary of Maurice Béjart, an innovative master of modern dance. In a world where there is both appreciation and fear of the mixing of cultural traditions, Maurice Béjart was always a champion of blending cultural influences. He was a World Citizen of culture and an inspiration to all who work for a universal culture. His death on November 22, 2007 was a loss, but he serves as a forerunner of what needs to be done so that beauty will overcome the walls of separation. One of the Béjart’s most impressive dance sequences was Jérusalem, cité de la Paix in which he stressed the need for reconciliation and mutual cultural enrichment.

Béjart followed in the spirit of his father, Gaston Berger (1896-1960), philosopher, administrator of university education, and one of the first to start multi-disciplinary studies of the future. Gaston Berger was born in Saint-Louis du Sénégal, with a French mother and a Senegalese father. Senegal, and especially Leopold Sedar Senghor, pointed with pride to Gaston Berger as a “native son” — and the second university after Dakar was built in Saint-Louis and carries the name of Gaston Berger. Berger became a professor of philosophy at the University of Aix-Marseille and was interested in seeking the basic structures of mystical thought, with study on the thought of Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both of whom were concerned with the basic energies which drive humanity forward. Berger was also interested in the role of memory as that which holds the group together writing that it is memory which allows us “to be able to hope together, to fear together, to love together, and to work together.”

Gaston Berger

In 1953, Gaston Berger was named director general of higher education in France with the task of renewal of the university system after the Second World War years. Thus, when Maurice-Jean Berger, born in 1927, was to start his own path, the name Berger was already well known in intellectual and administrative circle. Maurice changed his name to Béjart which sounds somewhat similar but is the name of the wife of Molière. Molière remains the symbol of the combination of theater-dance-music.

Maurice Béjart was trained at the Opera de Paris and then with the well-known choreographer Roland Petit. Béjart’s talent was primarily as a choreographer, a creator of new forms blending dance-music-action. He was willing to take well-known music such as the Bolero of Maurice Ravel or The Rite of Spring and The Firebird of Stravinsky and develop new dance forms for them. However, he was also interested in working with composers of experimental music such as Pierre Schaeffer.

Béjart also continued his father’s interest in mystical thought, less to find the basic structures of mystic thought like his father but rather as an inspiration. He developed a particular interest in the Sufi traditions of Persia and Central Asia. The Sufis have often combined thought-music-motion as a way to higher enlightenment. The teaching and movements of G. I. Gurdjieff are largely based on Central Asian Sufi techniques even if Gurdjieff did not stress their Islamic character. Although Gurdjieff died in October 1948, he was known as an inspiration for combining mystical thought, music and motion in the artistic milieu of Béjart. The French composer of modern experimental music, Pierre Schaeffer with whom Béjart worked closely was a follower of Gurdjieff. Schaeffer also worked closely with Pierre Henry for Symphonie pour un homme seul and La Messe pour le Temps Présent for which Béjart programmed the dance. Pierre Henry was interested in the Tibetan school of Buddhism, so much of Béjart’s milieu had spiritual interests turned toward Asia.

Maurice Béjart

It was Béjart’s experience in Persia where he was called by the Shah of Iran to create dances for the Persepolis celebration in 1971 that really opened the door to Sufi thought — a path he continued to follow.

Béjart also followed his father’s interest in education and created dance schools both in Bruxelles and later Lausanne. While there is not a “Béjart style” that others follow closely, he stressed an openness to the cultures of the world and felt that dance could be an enrichment for all social classes. He often attracted large audiences to his dance performances, and people from different milieu were moved by his dances.

Béjart represents a conscious effort to break down walls between artistic forms by combining music, dance, and emotion and the walls between cultures. An inspiration for World Citizens to follow.

Maurice Béjart’s dancers performing Pierre Henry’s Messe pour le Temps présent at the Avignon festival in 1967. © Jean-Louis Boissier

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Nagorno-Karabakh: Uneasy Ceasefire, Key Issues Remain

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 24, 2020 at 4:56 PM

By René Wadlow

December 9-10, 2020 marked the one-month anniversary of the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh by the Armenians. The ceasefire was negotiated by Russia between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The agreement was signed by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the Azerbaijan President, Ilham Aliyev, and the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pachinian. However, on December 11, the Russian Novosti Press Agency reported the first ceasefire violation, an exchange of fire between Azerbaijan and Armenian soldiers. There are some 2000 Russian peacekeepers on site, but it is always difficult to control a ceasefire. Moreover, a ceasefire is only the first step on what will be a long path of confidence-building measures and ultimately forms of cooperation.

Nicol Pachanian

The ceasefire agreement structures two safe avenues of road communication from the remaining Armenian areas in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. In the same way there will be a safe avenue of road communication from the Azerbaijan areas to Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijan majority area within Armenia. The avenue to Nakhichevan close to the frontier with Turkey will allow Turkish goods to cross to Azerbaijan and from there through Central Asia to the frontier with China.

Turkey considers the outcome of the ceasefire as a victory for Turkey, especially that the Turkish drones and weapons used by the Azerbaijan forces played a large role in giving Azerbaijan a military advantage. In contrast, the outcome of the ceasefire is considered by many in Armenia as a defeat, creating an instability for the current government led by Pachinian. The results of the ceasefire have led to the naming of a new Foreign Minister, Ara Aivazian, on November 18.

The conflict has led to a large number of new refugees, of displaced persons and hopes among those in Azerbaijan who had fled Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of the 1992-1994 armed conflict. The economy of the area, always marginal as Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous, largely rural area is largely destroyed. However, the area had highly symbolic meaning for both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Ilham Aliyev

The Group of Minsk, created by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after the 1992-1994 conflict has 11 States as members including Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Minsk Group has three co-chairs: Russia, France, the USA. The Group as a whole rarely meets. Rather it is diplomats from Russia and France who have met in bilateral meetings with representatives from Azerbaijan or Armenia. There has been little progress in finding confidence-building measures and virtually none on forms of cooperation.

Today, this armed conflict in an area that is troubled in a number of places may be a warning sign that negotiations in good faith should be a priority. The Association of World Citizens has been concerned with the tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh since the eve of the breakup of the USSR in 1991. We need to remain alert at possible efforts at Track II diplomacy or other forms of nongovernmental mediation.

Prof. René Wadlow is the President of the Association of World Citizens.

Building Stronger Conflict Prevention Networks

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on November 9, 2020 at 1:44 PM

By René Wadlow

As we reflect on current armed conflicts on which the Association of World Citizens (AWC) has proposed measures for conflict resolution – Nagorno-Karabakh, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine-Donetsk-Lugansk-Russia – we ask ourselves if we are to be overwhelmed by an endless chain of regional wars capable of devastating entire countries or will we help build the structures for the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith. Can we help build stronger conflict prevention networks?

In each of these current conflicts, there is a mix of underlying causes: ethnic tensions, social inequality, environmental degradation, and regional rivalries. In each conflict, there were warning signs and a building of tensions prior to the outbreak of armed conflict. This was particularly true in Syria where there were four months of nonviolent protests and local organizing for reforms before violence began. Not enough was done by external nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to strengthen and protect these nonviolent reform movements in Syria. Given the complexity of conflict situations and the often-short time between the signs of tensions and the outbreak of violence, external peacebuilding organizations have to be able to move quickly to support local civil society efforts.

In each of these four situations, the degree of civil society organizations differs. We need to look carefully at the different currents within the society to see what groups we might be able to work with and to what degree of influence they may have on governmental action. Governments tend to react in the same ways. Governments cling to the belief that there can be simple security-related solutions to complex challenges as we see these days with the current use of police and military methods by the government of Belarus.

There is often a pervading mistrust between the central government and outlying territories. Such mistrust cannot be overcome by external NGOs. We can, however, reflect with local groups on how lines of communication can be established or strengthened.

Preventing the eruption of disputes into full-scale hostilities is not an easy task, but its difficulties pale beside those of ending the fighting once it has started. NGOs need to have active channels of communication with multinational governmental organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). NGOs may have an easier time to be in contact with local nongovernmental forces in the conflict States as both the UN and the OSCE are bound by the decisions of governments.

Growing resource scarcity and environmental degradation, the depletion of fresh water and arable land played an important role in exacerbating conflicts in Yemen. The armed conflict has made things much worse. There is now a growing world-wide recognition of the environmental-conflict linkage. Thus, groups concerned with the defense and restoration of the environment need to become part of the network of conflict resolution efforts. There is much to be done. Building stronger conflict prevention networks should be a vital priority.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Reignited Armed Conflict Between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Could Violence Spread?

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on September 30, 2020 at 8:04 PM

By René Wadlow

On September 27, 2020, military forces from Azerbaijan moved into six villages held by Armenian forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh area. The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, warned in a television broadcast that the two countries were “on the edge of war with unforeseeable consequences”. The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, declared martial law and called up reserve military. There have been calls for a ceasefire from Russia; however, Russia is generally thought to favor Armenia. The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has repeated his support for Azerbaijan.

Nikol Pashinyan

On September 30, 2020, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed a unanimous resolution calling on Armenia and Azerbaijan to halt fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh and urgently resume talks without preconditions. There have been previous talks held under the leadership of the “Minsk Group” (Russia, France, USA), founded in 1994, of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). However, these talks have not modified the ever-tense situation. On September 29, the Association of World Citizens sent an Appeal to the authorities of Armenia and Azerbaijan for a ceasefire and the start of negotiations in good faith.

Ilham Aliyev

The Nagorno-Karabakh issue arises from the post-Revolution, post-Civil War period of Soviet history when Joseph Stalin was Commissioner for Nationalities. Stalin came from neighboring Georgia and knew the Caucasus well. His policy was a classic ‘divide and rule’ carried out with method so that national/ethnic groups would need to depend on the central government in Moscow for protection. Thus, in 1922, the frontiers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia were hammered out of what was the Transcaucasia Federative Republic. (1)

Stepanakert, the capital city of Nagorno-Karabakh. (C) Kylar Loussikian

Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian majority area, was given a certain autonomy within Azerbaijan but was geographically cut off from Armenia. Likewise, an Azeri majority area, Nakhichevan, was created as an autonomous republic within Armenia but cut off geographically from Azerbaijan. Thus, both enclaves had to look to Moscow for protection. This was especially true for the Armenians. Many Armenians living in what had been historic Armenia, but which had become part of the Ottoman Empire, had been killed during the First World War by the Turks. Armenians living in “Soviet Armenia” had relatives and friends among those killed by the Turks, creating a permanent sense of vulnerability and insecurity. Russia was considered a historical ally of Armenia.

The flag of the Flag of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

These mixed administrative units worked well enough or, one should say, there were few public criticisms allowed until 1988, when the whole Soviet model of nationalities and republics started to come apart. In both Armenia and Azerbaijan, nationalistic voices were raised. A strong “Karabakh Committee” began demanding that Nagorno-Karabakh be attached to Armenia. In Azerbaijan, anti-Armenian sentiment was set aflame. Many Armenians who were working in the oil-related economy of Baku were under tension and started leaving. This was followed somewhat later by real anti-Armenian pogroms. Some 160,000 Armenians left Azerbaijan for Armenia and others went to live in Russia.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan, tensions focused on Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1992, full-scale armed conflict started in and around Nagorno-Karabakh and went on for two years. During the two years of fighting, 1992-1994, at least 20,000 persons were killed and more than one million persons displaced. In 1994, there was a ceasefire largely negotiated by Russia. Nagorno-Karabakh has declared its independence as a separate State. No other State – including Armenia – has recognized this independent status, but in practice, Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto State with control over its population and its own military forces. Some in Nagorno-Karabakh hope that the country might become the “Liechtenstein of the Caucasus”.

Azerbaijani refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh during the 1992-1994 war.

Armed violence has broken out before, especially in 2016. Many in Nagorno-Karabakh do not want to be at the mercy of decisions made in distant centers of power but to decide their own course of action. However, the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent State raises the issue of the status of other de facto ministates of the area, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova.

Finding appropriate administrative structures which will permit real trans-frontier cooperation between Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan and Armenia will not be easy, but it is a crucial step if peace is to be established. The Association of World Citizens has proposed forms of con-federation and trans-frontier mechanisms in such cases and will continue to make such proposals for Nagorno-Karabakh.

Note

1) For a good analysis of Stalin’s nationality policies, see Helene Carrere d’Encausse, The Great Challenge: Nationalities and the Bolshevik State 1917-1930 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1992)

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

PRESS RELEASE – 20200914/Migrants and Refugees/Human Rights

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Press release, Refugees, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on September 14, 2020 at 7:49 AM

Press Release

September 14, 2020

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THE ASSOCIATION OF WORLD CITIZENS PROPOSES

INCREASED GOVERNMENTAL AND NONGOVERNMENTAL ACTION

FOR AN ENLIGHTENED POLICY

TOWARD MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

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Recent events have highlighted the need for a dynamic and enlightened policy toward migrants and refugees. The refugee camp in Moria, on Lesbos Island, Greece, which burned to the ground on September 9, 2020, hosted over 13,000 refugees and migrants, most from Afghanistan with others from Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and an increasing number from West Africa. Among them were thousands of defenseless women and children, victims of war, violence and later from xenophobia, islamophobia and racism. Prior to the fire, the refugees were already living in poor conditions, in small tents on wet ground without clean drinking water or medical care.

Since the fire, most of the refugees in Moria, including newborn babies, have been sleeping in the streets while xenophobic locals harass them and armed policemen, known for their far-right sympathies, threaten them.

A second drama of refugees and migrants is being acted out in the French Department of Pas-de-Calais, as refugees try to reach England before December 31, 2020, when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, thus ending the existing accords on refugees and migrants. Many have paid large sums of money for the possibility to reach England, often in unsafe makeshift boats.

The Association of World Citizens, along with other humanitarian organizations, has worked actively for world law concerning migrants and refugees – policies which need to be strengthened and, above all, applied respecting the dignity of each person: https://awcungeneva.com/2020/06/20/world-refugee-day/

PRESS RELEASE – 20200911/Belarus/Democracy/Human Rights

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union on September 11, 2020 at 11:42 AM

Press Release


Paris, September 11, 2020

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LATEST PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN BELARUS:

WHEN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS RUN FOR THEIR LIVES OR “DISAPPEAR”,

DEMOCRACY CAN NEVER BE WELL SERVED

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The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has expressed deep concern over the crackdown on leaders of the opposition to the July 9, 2020 election of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Many consider the election to have been marked by serious irregularities and false counting of votes.


Members of the nonviolent opposition coordinating council have been forced into exile such as the opposition’s presidential candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, to Lithuania. Others, such as Maria Kalesnikova, were taken by masked security agents to the frontier with Ukraine.


Ms. Kalesnikova ripped her passport so that she could not enter Ukraine and be exiled. Other members of the opposition have “disappeared”, no doubt held by security forces in undisclosed locations. The AWC has specifically highlighted the abuses of such “disappearances” and the need for continuing efforts against such abuses: https://awcungeneva.com/2020/08/30/enforced-disappearances-ngo-efforts-to-continue/.

Violences contre les femmes : Qui a peur de la Convention d’Istanbul ?

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on September 8, 2020 at 11:22 AM

Par Bernard J. Henry

« You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream », « Vous pouvez tuer le rêveur, mais vous ne pouvez pas tuer le rêve ». Le plus célèbre « rêveur » de l’histoire, Martin Luther King, Jr., qui avait dit à la foule rassemblée devant le Lincoln Memorial de Washington, le 28 août 1963, « I have a dream », « J’ai un rêve », se savait menacé. Il se disait ainsi conscient que d’aucuns saisiraient la première occasion pour l’assassiner, ce qu’ils ont fait le 4 avril 1968 à Memphis. Jamais le « rêve » ne s’est éteint, et l’année 2020 aux Etats-Unis a montré que plus il manquait à se concrétiser, plus il se transformait en cauchemar.

Lorsqu’une personne incarne à ce point sa cause, est-il toujours permis de penser que, pour peu que cette personne disparaisse, la cause lui survivra toujours ? La question se pose désormais en France, depuis le décès le 28 août dernier de Gisèle Halimi, légendaire avocate devenue femme politique puis diplomate et, depuis le Procès de Bobigny qui la fit connaître en 1973, défenseure emblématique de La cause des femmes.

S’il n’a jamais été aussi vigoureux, depuis l’affaire Harvey Weinstein ainsi que l’apparition des hashtags #BalanceTonPorc et #MeToo, le féminisme ne fait pourtant toujours pas l’unanimité. En Europe, certains chefs d’Etat semblent même tant le craindre qu’ils sont prêts à amputer la loi nationale d’un instrument majeur contre les violences liées au genre, au premier rang desquelles les violences conjugales. Quels sont ces dirigeants européens qui rêvent d’un retour en arrière et que cherchent-ils ainsi ? Pourquoi vouloir éloigner encore davantage le « rêve » de Gisèle Halimi de la réalité ?

La Convention d’Istanbul, instrument juridique et engagement politique

A quoi, d’abord, ressemblerait cette amputation ? Quel est cet instrument qui leur fait si peur ? Il s’agit d’un traité, plus précisément d’une convention du Conseil de l’Europe, et comme bien des conventions, celle-ci porte un nom barbare pour les non-juristes, alors le grand public préfère la désigner selon la ville où elle a été adoptée. La Convention du Conseil de l’Europe sur la prévention et la lutte contre la violence à l’égard des femmes et la violence domestique, adoptée le 11 mai 2011 à Istanbul (Turquie), est communément appelée la Convention d’Istanbul.

Entrée en vigueur le 1er mai 2014, elle compte à ce jour trente-quatre Etats Parties et, en tout, quarante-six signataires dont l’un n’est pas un Etat, puisqu’il s’agit de l’Union européenne en tant qu’institution supranationale. Instrument de son temps, la Convention fait référence, outre son illustre aînée la Convention européenne de Sauvegarde des Droits de l’Homme et des Libertés fondamentales, tout à la fois aux classiques du genre, tels que le Pactes internationaux relatifs aux droits civils et politiques ainsi qu’aux droits économiques, sociaux et culturels, bien sûr la Convention des Nations Unies sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l’égard des femmes, la fameuse CEDAW, et la Convention des Nations Unies relative aux droits de l’enfant, mais aussi des textes d’adoption plus contemporaine comme la Convention des Nations Unies relative aux droits des personnes handicapées, datant de 2006, et le Statut de Rome de la Cour pénale internationale.

La Convention justifie son existence non pas seulement en droit, mais aussi en fait, invoquant le « volume croissant de la jurisprudence de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme qui établit des normes importantes en matière de violence à l’égard des femmes », et affirmant reconnaître que « la réalisation de jure et de facto de l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes est un élément clé dans la prévention de la violence à l’égard des femmes ». La richesse et la pertinence particulière de la Convention proviennent pourtant de ce qu’elle puise sa force dans la sociologie même, son Préambule reprenant plusieurs réalités de première importance, tant historiques que contemporaines, telles que :

« la violence à l’égard des femmes est une manifestation des rapports de force historiquement inégaux entre les femmes et les hommes ayant conduit à la domination et à la discrimination des femmes par les hommes, privant ainsi les femmes de leur pleine émancipation »,

« la nature structurelle de la violence à l’égard des femmes est fondée sur le genre, et que la violence à l’égard des femmes est un des mécanismes sociaux cruciaux par lesquels les femmes sont maintenues dans une position de subordination par rapport aux hommes »,

« les femmes et les filles sont souvent exposées à des formes graves de violence telles que la violence domestique, le harcèlement sexuel, le viol, le mariage forcé, les crimes commis au nom du prétendu ‘honneur’ et les mutilations génitales, lesquelles constituent une violation grave des droits humains des femmes et des filles et un obstacle majeur à la réalisation de l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes »,

« les violations constantes des droits de l’homme en situation de conflits armés affectant la population civile, et en particulier les femmes, sous la forme de viols et de violences sexuelles généralisés ou systématiques et la potentialité d’une augmentation de la violence fondée sur le genre aussi bien pendant qu’après les conflits »,

« les femmes et les filles sont exposées à un risque plus élevé de violence fondée sur le genre que ne le sont les hommes »,

« la violence domestique affecte les femmes de manière disproportionnée et que les hommes peuvent également être victimes de violence domestique »,

« les enfants sont des victimes de la violence domestique, y compris en tant que témoins de violence au sein de la famille ».

La Convention n’est donc pas un traité de plus, venant s’ajouter à une liste déjà longue lisible des seuls juristes. Elle est un authentique engagement, non pas seulement judiciaire mais aussi politique, du Conseil de l’Europe contre la violence envers les femmes sous les multiples formes qu’elle peut revêtir.

Pour un Etat Partie, s’en retirer ne peut qu’être lourd de sens et tout autant de conséquences. Alors, qui parmi les chefs d’Etat européens peut vouloir en prendre le risque, et quelle peut être la justification d’un acte, même s’il reste hypothétique, aussi indéfendable ?

Pologne et Turquie, même combat – contre les femmes

Les deux pays concernés n’ont en commun ni géographie, ni langue, ni culture, ni religion. Mais aujourd’hui, une tentative identique de leurs dirigeants de déposséder leurs citoyennes de la protection européenne de leurs droits les unit pour le pire.

Le premier coup contre la Convention est venu du nord de l’Europe, d’un pays slave, majoritairement catholique et qui fut pendant la Guerre Froide une dictature communiste du Pacte de Varsovie. Varsovie, qui est aussi la capitale de ce pays puisqu’il s’agit de la Pologne.

Le 26 juillet, le Conseil de l’Europe s’alarmait publiquement de l’annonce du gouvernement du Président Andrzej Duda de son intention de dénoncer la Convention. Marija Pejčinović Burić, la Secrétaire générale du Conseil de l’Europe, déclarait par écrit : « Il serait fort regrettable que la Pologne quitte la Convention d’Istanbul, et ce retrait marquerait un grave recul dans la protection des femmes contre la violence en Europe ».

Zbigniew Ziobro

Devant le tollé, le parti Droit et Justice (PiS) au pouvoir ne tardait pas à se distancier du Ministre de la Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, auteur de l’annonce et représentant d’un parti de droite minoritaire de la coalition gouvernementale. Mais sans désavouer sur le fond le ministre et sans affirmer de soutien à la Convention, précisément jugée trop laxiste par le Gouvernement polonais.

En août, c’était le tour du premier pays à avoir signé et ratifié la Convention de parler à présent de la révoquer, le pays même où a vu le jour la Convention d’Istanbul, donc la Turquie. De nombreux analystes y voyaient un coup de barre à droite de la majorité gouvernementale islamo-conservatrice du Parti de la Justice et du Développement (AKP). Reçep Tayyip Erdogan, Président turc et, à l’époque de l’adoption de la Convention, Premier Ministre, déclarait néanmoins quant à lui qu’« un accord, une réglementation ou une idéologie qui sape les fondations de la famille n’est pas légitime ».

Seul le Parlement, en vacances jusqu’au 1er octobre, pourra décider du retrait ou non la Convention. Et le décès d’une grève de la faim, le 27 août, de l’avocate Ebru Timtik augure mal de la volonté des dirigeants turcs de sauver leurs administrées de violences qu’elles n’ont pas à subir.

Ebru Timtik

Que les partis conservateurs religieux, quelle que soit la religion qu’ils invoquent, n’aient jamais été les plus grands défenseurs des droits des femmes, ce n’est pas nouveau et encore moins secret. De tels partis savent pourtant, du moins devraient savoir, que risquer de perdre le vote des femmes n’est pas et ne sera jamais une stratégie politique sensée, mais bel et bien suicidaire. De là à en déduire que les femmes ne seraient pas la cible, du moins ultime, de ces menaces de départ de la Convention d’Istanbul, il n’y a qu’un pas. Et le franchir mène à une destination inattendue.

Le sexisme en cheval de Troie de la LGBTphobie

Derrière les attaques contre les femmes, dans les deux pays, la véritable cible, c’est la féminité. Non pas la vraie, mais une féminité fantasmée, crainte, maudite, celle qu’incarne aux yeux des conservateurs polonais comme turcs l’homosexualité, et au-delà, toute personne LGBT.

Car forcément, pour un conservateur, l’homosexualité est plus grave encore si elle est masculine puisque, dans son idée, elle féminise l’homme qui s’en réclame, et dès lors, foin du modèle viril patriarcal qu’exalte le conservatisme, cette abhorrée « féminité masculine » corrompt la famille et ronge toute la société.

Un certain nombre de villes de Pologne n’ont rien trouvé de plus intelligent que de se déclarer “LGBT-free”, “Libérées de l’idéologie LGBT”. Elles ont subi à juste titre la colère de leurs villes jumelles à l’étranger, de l’Union européenne, et parfois même de la justice polonaise.

Dès l’époque de son adoption, Zbigniew Ziobro avait été sans équivoque au sujet de la Convention, puisqu’il l’avait dénoncée comme « une invention, une création féministe qui vise à justifier l’idéologie gay ». Le ministre qu’il est devenu n’allait pas se priver de lui infliger le sort qu’elle mérite à ses yeux. Même coupé dans son élan par ses partenaires gouvernementaux, il en demeure capable.

En Turquie, l’anathème contre les personnes LGBT est identique, et c’est de Numan Kurtulmus, Vice-président de l’AKP, qu’il provient sous sa forme la plus explicite. Pour lui, la Convention est « aux mains des LGBT et d’éléments radicaux ». Ce à quoi ne s’attendait certainement pas, en revanche, le parti gouvernemental turc, c’est le soutien apporté à la Convention par l’Association Femmes et Démocratie, notoirement influente et qui a pour Vice-présidente Sümeyye Erdogan Bayraktar, la propre fille du chef de l’Etat.

Sümeyye Erdogan Bayraktar

Voir en la protection légale des femmes contre la violence une présumée manipulation politique des personnes LGBT, c’est tout au mieux du fantasme, au pire de l’homophobie et du sexisme morbides. Même s’il serait naïf de s’étonner de telles saillies haineuses de la part de conservateurs, comment accepter que ce qui est déjà inacceptable en parole devienne la clé qui verrouillera Polonaises et Turques hors de la Convention d’Istanbul ? A l’Europe comme au monde entier, Varsovie et Ankara en demandent ici trop.

Soutien aux femmes de Pologne et de Turquie

Et pendant que les deux gouvernements conservateurs laissent leurs fantasmes dicter leur politique, ailleurs en Europe, dans le nord scandinave, le Danemark met enfin sa législation sur le viol en conformité avec la Convention en l’acceptant enfin pour ce qu’il est – l’absence de consentement. Polonaises et Turques sont vent debout contre la menace. L’Association of World Citizens les soutient et restera à leurs côtés, de même qu’aux côtés des personnes LGBT si sournoisement visées à travers elles par ces intolérables politiques rétrogrades.

Bernard J. Henry est Officier des Relations Extérieures de l’Association of World Citizens.

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